Today I’m talking to Andrew Westover, Eleanor McDonald Storza Director of Education at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, about how a values-engaged teaching approach can transform gallery experiences and foster deep connections.
Andrew Westover leads the learning team at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, focusing on connecting people with art and ideas to inspire civic life. In this role, Andrew develops initiatives, partnerships, and diverse programming to engage Atlanta’s communities.
Andrew previously served as the Keith Haring Director of Education at the New Museum in New York, shaping the vision for the education department. Their diverse experience includes roles at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum.
In this chat we’re exploring what values-engaged teaching approach is in a gallery setting and how it can be applied. We discuss the importance of self-knowledge and understanding your own values as essential foundations for effective teaching in a gallery setting.
We talk about the 5 values that underpin the work of High Museum of Art’s education department and how their work is rooted in listening, engaging in dialogue, building consensus, and designing spaces for various communities.
We explore how four key words—experiences, identities, affinities, and beliefs—serve as a bridge in connecting the museum’s collections and exhibitions with its visitors.
We talk about the importance of genuine connection in the museum, and how connection is essential for experiences to be meaningful and not merely a superficial interaction.
Andrew shares practical strategies and examples of how to navigate conflict during gallery discussions, including a detailed example of addressing emotional responses.
And we conclude by sharing tips for listeners looking to adopt similar strategies for values-engaged teaching in their practice or organisation.
There is so much in this conversation – you might want to have a pen and paper handy! Listen to our conversation or read the transcript below.
Claire Bown: Hello, and welcome to The Art Engager podcast with me, Claire Bown. I’m here to share techniques and tools to help you engage with your audience and bring art, objects, and ideas to life. So let’s dive into this week’s show.
Hello, and welcome back to The Art Engager podcast. I’m your host, Claire Bown of Thinking Museum, and this is episode 120. So today I’m talking to Andrew Westover, Eleanor MacDonald Storza Director of Education at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. We’re talking about how values engaged teaching can transform gallery experiences and foster deep connections.
So stay tuned for our conversation shortly. But before that, last time I was talking to Bryony Brickell of Magic Lantern about their innovative and inclusive approach to art education in schools, transforming them into pop up art galleries. So do go and listen to episode 119 if you haven’t already. Lots and lots of different ideas there to interact and engage with art.
And if you have a question for the show or want to suggest a guest, feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to talk to more educators doing innovative things, engaging with art. objects and audiences in museums and heritage. So do get in touch with me via the link in the show notes.
And don’t forget that The Art Engager has over 100 episodes to choose from. Take your pick from the back catalogue of different episodes to brush up on your skills, be inspired and learn new techniques. And please support the show. You can do so by treating me to a cup of tea on buymeacoffee. com / Claire Bown.
I’ll put a link in the show notes. Okay, let’s get on with today’s show. So Andrew Westover leads the learning team at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, focusing on connecting people with art and ideas to inspire civic life. In this role, Andrew develops initiatives, partnerships and diverse programming to engage Atlanta’s communities.
Andrew previously served as the Keith Haring Director of Education at the New Museum in New York, shaping the vision for the Education Department. Their diverse experience includes roles at the John Paul Getty Museum, the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, and the Phoenix Art Museum.
Now, in this chat, we’re exploring what values engaged teaching is in a gallery setting and how it can be applied. We discuss at the start the importance of self knowledge and understanding your own values as essential foundations for effective gallery teaching. We also talk about the five values that underpin the High Museum of Art’s Education Department’s work and how their work is rooted in listening, engaging in dialogue, building consensus, and designing spaces for various communities.
We explore how four key words, experiences, identities, affinities, and beliefs, serve as a bridge in connecting the museum’s collections and exhibitions. And we talk about the importance of genuine connection in the museum and how connection is essential for experiences to be meaningful. Andrew shares practical strategies and examples of how to navigate.
Conflict during gallery discussions, including a detailed example of how to address emotional responses. And we conclude by sharing some tips for listeners looking to adopt similar strategies for values engaged teaching in their practice or their organisation. There is so much in this conversation, you might want to have a pen and paper handy.
Here’s our chat. Enjoy.
Hi, Andrew, and welcome to The Art Engager podcast.
Andrew Westover: Thank you, Claire. So excited to share some space with you today.
Claire Bown: Perhaps you could start by telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Andrew Westover: Happily. My name is Andrew Westover, and I am the Eleanor McDonald Storza Director of Education at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
And our work here is pretty wide ranging. We’re lucky to be the largest art museum in the Southeast United States. And so that means we also see quite a lot of people every day.
It’s really a joy to work with all kinds of folks as they engage with works of art.
Claire Bown: Brilliant. I’d like to ask you a first question about your values.
I’m curious about the values that inspire and inform your work. How do these values contribute to the mission of the museum and its approach to art education?
Andrew Westover: Values are really important to me. I’m going to start by actually speaking quite broadly about values. You may have seen online that some of my background includes studying in graduate school values from a couple of different perspectives.
I spent a small amount of time at a seminary, an interfaith seminary, and then I also spent time studying with an epistemologist and then, of course, living in a bunch of different contexts. And Across these various experiences, I realized pretty quickly that there are different values in the world,
so when We were thinking about values here. Our institution has four key words that our directors brought to the table, and they’re wonderful and help us frame a lot. And when our department was thinking about this being the education department, was thinking about how do we articulate those across all of our work, all of those groups of people that I was talking about earlier.
We realized that it might be helpful for us to flesh those out a little bit more in thinking about our day to day practice. We landed on these values and methodologies that, no surprise, I’m a big fan of and push in a couple of different directions. One, the umbrella of all of it, the sort of Why that drives connecting people with works of art and creative practices, the lives of artists, the work of imagination, flourishing, creativity, we talk about ‘growth through inquiry’ as a big banner, and then also ‘ connection to self’, ‘connection to one another’, and ‘connection to the wider world’.
We believe that these are inherently valuable things and that these are things that engagement with art is uniquely suited to driving. Then it was a question of how do we build that out? What does that look like? And we had a really wide ranging full day retreat with our team when I was about six months on in this role thinking about what are your values individually?
How do those mesh or how do those rub up against the values of people you’re working alongside? And we ultimately boiled down dozens of words that we tossed around and thought about and matrixed and tried to think through and we boiled it down to six words. And then we paired these words, so it’s three pairs of words that define our core values.
The first is Responsibility and Connectivity, the next Curiosity and Empathy, and then the final Thoughtfulness and Reliability. So I can go for eons about each of these, and I think you can imagine very quickly how these unfurl. But then the one other piece I want to underscore here is, we didn’t stop there.
And I think that’s really important because a lot of times when I’ve been part of values discussion before, it stays at the 30, 000 foot level. It stays with a relatively meta position. And one of the things we really wanted to be careful about was saying, okay, that’s beautiful linguistics, but what does that mean in practice?
And that’s where the methodologies come into play. And so we have five core methodologies of, okay, those words are nice, but what do they look like? How do we know those are happening? The methodologies themselves, listening, convening, facilitating, experiencing, and experimenting. And that those are the things that I, in my position, am saying to my team, ‘Okay, you have a proposal for a new program.
Which of these values are evident in that program?’ ‘You have a proposal for a new feedback loop. Great. Which of the values are you interrogating, questioning, observing in that process?’ It becomes a rubric that isn’t just a beautiful metaphor, although it can be, and it also helps realign when we are considering, are we on track?
Are we not? Should we monitor and adjust? If so, how? This set of values and methodologies has proven really fruitful for us.
Claire Bown: I love this. It’s music to my ears, everything that I’m hearing, everything that you’re talking about, the values that you’re using, but not just ‘leaving on the shelf’ something that is a ‘nice to have’, something that we refer to…
But actually incorporating this into your practice, designing from those values. And also I imagine teaching from these values as well. And I’d love to make a connection here with your approach to gallery teaching. So perhaps you could tell me a little bit about your Values Engaged gallery teaching.
Andrew Westover: Gladly. So Atlanta is a really unique place. And in some ways, this is a combination of a unique set of experiences on the part of our staff and our particular context.
Some of your listeners may not be familiar with Atlanta. Atlanta is in the south in the United States. It is a relatively large city. And our political context unlike much of the rest of the country, is not starkly left or right.
While there is polarization everywhere in our contemporary age, Atlanta’s interesting because while some people very firmly hold their opinions, we still are often called a purple city, in a relatively purple state, it’s a contested state where each side is battling politically. It’s also a state that has experienced a lot of change and growth.
Atlanta continues to be a hub for immigrants and newcomers from far and wide, and there’s a deep wellspring of people who have been here for a very long time. Racially diverse, ethnically diverse, religiously diverse. And so as we were thinking about how we can be an institution that is of, by, and for this city, which is core to what The High is, we started thinking about ‘What does it mean to hold all of these things?’
So when we talk about gallery teaching here, a lot of what we’re talking about is’ how can we meet people where they are? And what does that mean?’ When I start this teaching, our docents are excellent here, and some of the questions they asked when we started out with this was, but how can I even know where a person is coming from?
I was like, you’re totally right. You can never fully know where someone is coming from. So the whole idea that, ‘oh, we just meet people where they are’, it’s are you omniscient? That’s not a thing. So then what do you mean when you say that? What we talk about here now is this four pronged way of thinking about how people identify where they are in that colossal sense affinity, experience, Identity, and Belief.
So these four sort of major categories of how people establish worldviews, orientations to themselves, others, the wider world, and I’ll say them again because I think they’re important. Experience, Affinity, Identity, or Belief. So when I’m talking about these, my own little Andrew definitions, experience is just something that has happened and is remembered.
And held on to is valuable. Affinity. Anyone you feel affinity for or with. I like music. This weekend I went to a concert. I feel some affinity with the other people who were at that concert. Identity. I am a queer person. That is an important part of my identity. And then Belief. I’m a person of faith.
That’s core to how I see the world. Now, when we talk about these with our gallery teachers, with our docents, and then with our teaching artists we start by asking people to think individually for yourself. ‘Okay what might you identify in each of these?’ And then, we expand it a bit further and say, ‘now do you value all of those equally?’
‘Which one is more or less important for you as you’re coming into a space?’
So when we’re looking at a work of art, you might immediately say, ‘oh, interesting, that, in this figurative painting, that figure. I can’t determine their gender’. If gender is really important to me, and that’s what I’m coming to the space with, that might be something I really focus on.
Alternately, it might be a super experiential installation. And, as a religious person, I might come in and say, ‘I feel such a sense of awe in this space. This feels like a real connection with the divine’, and that be a moment where I immediately leap there. But whether or not those are core to what the artist intended, because of where I am holding these things, that’s how I’m entering the space.
So we talk about that a bit.
Claire Bown: Yeah I’m very curious about this. So thinking about your docents when you’re working with them, when you’re thinking about designing programs, when you’re perhaps doing some training or workshop with them, are these exercises in essentially getting them thinking about the lens through which they might be teaching? Or they might have a preference for teaching through?
Andrew Westover: I firmly believe that good teaching cannot happen without self knowledge. My graduate work for my doctorate was with an amazing, brilliant woman named Katherine Elgin. She’s an epistemologist and one of her great texts is called ‘Considered Judgment’.
And in that, she argues that we rarely, if ever, have complete understanding, but we still need to make decisions. And in order to do that, she talks about things being ‘ true enough to operate on them’, rather than being comprehensively, categorically true. And I think in that, when we’re working with docents and teaching artists, a lot of it, and ourselves, importantly is thinking not, how can I know myself in the fullness of complexity, but rather, how can I get to a space where it’s true enough my understanding of myself, my motivations, my desires, my beliefs, such that I can speech with some degree of validity about my own position and importantly, then, connect that to those of whomever I’m speaking with or engaging in front of this work of art.
Claire Bown: So using that self awareness as a way of connecting with people, as you said, connection was a really big value. I talk a lot about connection before content, creating those connections is so important, but also having that self awareness to know how to navigate, specific topics, maybe sensitive issues, or things that might be problematic, knowing how you might react, but knowing who’s in the room as well, and where they’re coming from.
It really helps on both sides, I would
Andrew Westover: Absolutely, and part of what I think that pushes us towards is questions about language. What language are you using to describe Experiences, affinities, beliefs, identities, because that language can so quickly be charged and polarized if we are not inordinately careful.
And so part of this discussion, self reflection, is also a preface and a version of playing with complicated language in a safer, braver space with one another, prior to getting in front of works of art with people we don’t know and then for the first time trying to talk about these things.
Claire Bown: Yeah, in doing so, you may even discover Where your particular ‘buttons’ are, those buttons that we have where we feel that, ‘oh, I can feel myself getting really quite emotional about this subject’. So having those moments to find that self awareness is so important for those types of conversations.
Andrew Westover: Fully. Sometimes docents at the outset would be like, ‘Andrew, why are we doing this?’ And there I would say, we all have had interactions in the galleries, where a moment is charged and not in a positive way, right? And so part of this is also about giving us language for when things feel charged, there’s friction that doesn’t feel productive, that feels antagonistic, and it’s pulling away from the art, pulling away from one another.
What is that? Where is that coming from? What motivates that? And how might we as facilitators Reconsider what it means to engage in that moment, rather than react in that moment.
Claire Bown: Yeah, and I was in a workshop last night, we were talking about nonviolent communication, and we were talking about how you cannot control the reactions of others, but you can control the way you react in the moment.
And that’s so important in our work, isn’t
Andrew Westover: Fulsomely. And part of this bit about self knowledge, too, I think often points us to consider art objects differently, too. Because rather than it be something that you learn about and share the facts about, it’s… ‘ oh, if I’m treating myself with this degree of care and consideration, and I’m thinking about extending that to others.
What if I do this with a work of art too?’ So part of it is thinking about, for some people, they’re already treating themselves with consideration and care. And for those people, I often say, what would it look like for you to treat an art object in a similar way? And then for others among our team, they treat the art object with such reverence and care.
And for those people I often say, what would it look like for you to transfer some of that skill and desire to the people who are gathered in front of you? If one great virtue of this work is observational nuance and perhaps clarity, what if it’s multi directional toward both the art and the people in front of us, such that becomes the connective tissue, the growth through inquiry that propels us forward?
Claire Bown: I love that. So you’re talking about ensuring that your team, your docents are actually seeing visitors in the same way as they would a work of art.
Andrew Westover: Absolutely. And that to me feels like such a productive space, because you’ve got all these people there who have come in for some reason, right?
I joke a lot. People don’t go into this work for the money for better and worse. So there’s some motivational desire there that brings people to the space. This is just tapping into that more explicitly, saying ‘what brought you here? What keeps you here? And how can that become the grounds on which you stand, operate, share, and move?’
Claire Bown: And so we’ve talked about developing that self awareness of your team. How do you train your docents to actually be in the gallery, to engage visitors with that sensitivity and that nuance? What does that look like?
Andrew Westover: So a lot of it is ‘modelling’. And I imagine these are going to be strategies people have heard before.
So we start with complicated objects from our collection, for example, here’s an object, we have a great work by Edmonia Lewis, incredible sculpture who has a complicated biography by some accounts. The fact that she’s of mixed race, that she moved to Europe in part around racism. She makes incredible sculpture that some would say neoclassical.
It’s in a grand tradition. And we have this amazing work in our collection called ‘Columbus’ that depicts this figure striding forward. There’s a person who Presumably is intended to be a Native person next to this figure on bended knee, like it’s a complicated work, and it’s complicated in ways that don’t neatly fit any narrative.
And so by pulling particular objects from our collection and saying, let’s not stop at the most basic, simplistic narrative. Let’s dig in. And see where it gets tricky, and importantly, see where that leads us, and see where that leads a community of us around this work.
What questions does this then raise? Where does this then push us? I like to think a lot about gallery teaching, not as Building blocks that help you make a perfect worldview, but rather, how can this give you questions you didn’t know you had the tools or capacity to ask, and instantiate them in visible form in front of you, in tactile form in front of you, such that it’s not purely an esoteric philosophical inquiry, but something that you can engage from your position, and the person next to you can engage from their position, and you build this triangle, the art object, you, and the person.
That triangle, to me, is the core of what great gallery teaching is.
Claire Bown: So when you’re talking about diving deep into these objects with your docents, with your team, you’re really trying to push beyond the obvious, you’re trying to spend time, really slow down the interaction with the object, so that you go deeper, so that you find, perhaps, Other stories, other hidden sides, other perspectives that may not come out at first glance.
Andrew Westover: That, for me actually, goes back to how I was, once upon a time, trained in a couple of different institutions to think about gallery teaching. One of my earliest museum jobs, I was at the Hirshhorn Museum which is part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D. C. And for a brief amount of time, they had this amazing role called Interpretive Guide, and so the role was part time, I think it was 15 hours a week or so and 20 percent of the job was researching the current exhibitions, and 80 percent of the job was standing in the galleries, and striking up conversation with people about the works of art.
That was it. And that taught me so much about observing people, and what brings people to museums, what keeps people with works of art, and what pushes people away from works of art. So that was a real bedrock formative experience for how I consider these things. And then, shortly thereafter, I had the great fortune of working Alongside and being mentored by Elliot Kai Kee at the Getty Museum, your listeners may know, teaching in the Art Museum, which I think is one of the great texts of our field.
And in that experience, he was always so generous to both works of art and the people we engage. And there’s something in that sense and spirit of generosity that when I was quick to dismiss something, ‘boring’, ‘old’, ‘don’t care’, ‘not relevant’, he would quickly, gently, patiently push back and just say, ‘Oh, but Andrew, You can’t dismiss it that quickly.
Let’s take a look.’
and then we would dive into looking at these works, Fragonard, these folks who for me, little contemporary art Andrew just had no time for some of these historic works, and he would push me to say there, there is value to be found here if you’re willing to open your eyes and see.
And so for me, this bit about pushing in, it’s also in some ways, and I love the work of VTS and Philip Yenowine and all of the folks who’ve worked there, but one thing that is always a bit of a wiggling factor for me is if I’m going in front of a work, I want to have as much information as I can, prior, not because I want to spew it out.
Ideally, I don’t even share 10 percent of that information, but it’s enough that if someone asks, I can give them something tangible to hold onto that’s factual that advances their question. And so back now in this very long way to your question about beyond the surface, part of that is me trying to anticipate from these various positions, identities, beliefs, affinities, experiences, that people might come from to approach this object, what might be initial questions or responses? And can I dig into the provenance, to the, curatorial files, to speaking to various folks who may know about the construction of the object, so that I can be more prepared when those queries arise?
That is wonderful training for digging and that digging happens best in person with other people. So you start with all this individual work, but then it’s doing this multiple groups with the same object over time. It’s another thing that Eliot was so good at. He would have favorite works that he’s taught with for decades.
And I watched him continue to have new realizations and recognitions alongside people he was ostensibly leading or facilitating, and he was learning as much as they were, and that was transparent to everyone there, and that to me is just truly a thing of beauty.
Claire Bown: Oh, I love it. Yeah. And I really enjoy having those discussions with people as well.
When quite often when I go into museums and I work with their teams and sometimes they will choose to work with some works of art that are very familiar to the team or objects that are the highlights of the collection that everybody knows super well. And we will spend time looking with fresh eyes, how can we look at this for longer?
How can we find new things? And no one goes away from that discussion without thinking something different, learning something new, having a different perspective. It’s a really wonderful way of seeing an object anew. So yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a great way to prepare your team.
What about preparing your team? for facilitating more difficult conversations, perhaps when conflict or disagreement arises. How would that work with values engaged teaching?
Andrew Westover: Yeah, there are many strategies for ‘engaging conflict’. And that’s an intentional frame too. I talk a lot about ‘engaging conflict’.
I think it’s productive. I think it’s useful. I think Ideas and considerations often grow through conflict. And so the first step is not seeing conflict as inherently wrong or bad. Conflict can be very productive. It’s about how it’s held and what happens next. So in that, it’s starting with a sense of conflict is not inherently bad or good.
Conflict is something that can be a tool to engage. And, it’s about how conflict is held, so our attention needs to be, ‘how is this group holding this conflict?’ And this group includes me. What’s happened? Let’s say someone has a just visceral, ‘I don’t like this’. You know what, let’s push it. ‘I don’t like this, I think this is morally wrong, I think this is personally offensive, and I can’t believe that you, facilitator, would bring this group of people to this object, and I really can’t believe that the museum would even have this here.
Shame. Shame on you for this’. I’m feeling stress
And I think many of us have encountered instances, maybe not to that degree, but somewhere on that valence. And so in a moment like that, I think there are a lot of possible trajectories, but it depends on the group. Among the things I often encourage.
One would be, first you’re checking the temperature, is this coming from someone who is calm, cool, collected, and just saying this with deliberate pointed statements, or is it someone who’s just spewing the wall with it can’t control themselves fully having a moment or somewhere in between?
If someone is coolly deliberative, I think that’s a moment where you can speak back and say, ”Those are really strong words and impressions. I want us to be able to hold that. Can you tell me why you feel so strongly that position?’
now if they’re full emotional, That may be a moment to say, ‘Ooh, all of us, I can feel the temperature right now. So I’m going to ask us to do something in this moment that can help us make sure we stay together as a group. Can I ask each of us’, and there, depends on the group’s age ability, I’ll think about using silence.
‘Can we take 30 seconds just maybe to close our eyes? 30 seconds to open our eyes. And look,’ and then go right back to some of the things that were said. Not use it as a colossal redirect, but instead say, okay, we, I’ve done this in an effort to help us temperature regulate, because I felt for me, my temperature was getting high in that moment.
So ‘now, one of the things I heard you say was…’ . And then we can start there. Another thing, break it up. Say, ‘you know what? This has raised some important values that we should talk about. However, I know in my experience that a big group discussion of values sometimes isn’t the most productive.
So here’s what I’m going to do. We’re not ignoring anything you’ve said. We’re going to take it the most seriously, and I’m going to ask everyone in this group to pair up and immediately talk to the person next to you. Given The amazing prompt we’ve just been given, turn to the person next to you and discuss what was shared in light of the work in front of you.
How is what was shared, how does that show up in the work, where do you see it or not? And then we’ll come back together to discuss.’ And in that moment, that’s also a moment for, to go over to said person and immediately join their twosome, or their onesome if they’re not in a space to join with someone else.
And ‘ Thank you so much for sharing that. That was so helpful and so powerful. I want to be sure that I’m doing right by you. Are you okay with us continuing to have this conversation about what you’re bringing to the table? Because I think this is really important. I want to honor and hold this, but I want to make sure that this is good for you too.’
Again, and these all can split out in different ways, and, but I think part of it that’s core is honoring what’s shared as something that we don’t run away from. That we really need to choose to fake Sheryl Sandberg and lean in.
Claire Bown: Yeah, and it’s a way of demonstrating that you’ve heard the response, you’ve heard the person, you’re not ignoring it.
But you’re also giving space. So you’re giving that space to take the heat, take the sting out of what was said, take the emotion out of what was said. So a little pause. I love the idea of a little pause, little moment of looking or closed eyes. I also like the idea of turning to a partner.
Again, you’re not in the big whole group discussion. It’s a moment of pause. It’s much more intimate when it’s two people chatting. You can just let off a little bit of steam and let everything calm down. But at the same time, and this is really skilled facilitation,is it gives you a chance to talk to that person as well and to say, ‘I hear you.
Thank you for bringing that up’ and honoring those responses as you said. So yeah, thank you for going through that. I do know that it’s difficult for a lot of gallery teachers when they are faced with conflict or strong opinions or strong emotions, knowing how to handle their own response, but also how to handle it in front of the group.
And actually walking through that, I think will be incredibly useful for people. So thank you for that. I’d love to move on because we could talk all day. I say this a lot on the podcast, but once we get into our stride, we really could talk all day, but I’d love to know about feedback you’ve had on the effectiveness of the values engaged teaching.
Andrew Westover: Gladly. So the feedback, I’ll say, there’s often initial hesitation about is this possible? Can I do this? But then once over that hump, the feedback is generally very warm, affirming.
Great gratitude is something that comes up a lot. People saying, ‘ I didn’t even realize this was what I was struggling with. And As a facilitator, this has really opened my eyes, both to new ways of seeing art and new ways of facilitation, that I am immediately putting into practice’.
So that feedback directly from our teachers is great, and In instances where folks have been able to implement things like this in the galleries, particularly around conflict, that’s where we get rave responses from participants, because another thing, in our contemporary societies, there’s There are very few examples of handling conflict well, especially in public and especially with strangers or folks who aren’t already connected.
And so I think when people witness this, for many people, sometimes it’s their first time seeing something like this. And that’s where To me, that’s a huge civic virtue that our institutions can offer in a time when that work is desperately needed, and that art gives us an opportunity to do that isn’t, oh, I’ve been bludgeoned in the face, but rather, maybe I’m looking at someone being bludgeoned in the face, and I can talk about it with a degree of separation from myself. But still feel it, know it, sense it in this visceral way, and have the great gift of time to consider it, that’s what the museum can afford.
Claire Bown: Yeah, I can imagine some of the responses that you must get. Could you also share some tips for others? I’m sure there’s some people listening, thinking about how might I incorporate some of these ideas, some of these strategies. into my department? How might I incorporate some of these strategies with my team to help them navigate such topics in the gallery?
Andrew Westover: Yes, absolutely. So I think there are a couple of pieces here that I think are really helpful. One is I am a huge evangelist for this idea of having trainings for teachers and facilitators that really consider self knowledge and self formation as a bedrock for what it means to teach. I also think holding this idea of looking at people with the same degree of observational nuance that we do works of art, needs to be central to this process.
I did recently have an article shared through the Museum Magazine, which the American Alliance of Museums publishes, and I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in this to check that out. I put a little section in that article called tips for values engaged teaching and learning. I won’t read all of them now, but if folks are interested, I think it’s a helpful resource.
And so part of this is and we’ve discussed many of these, but part of this that I want to highlight here is looking particularly at language and thinking about how it’s charged. Looking with a group for yourself and alongside the group members at what affinities, experiences, identities, and beliefs are showing up in that space. To not be afraid to reset a group.
I find that a lot of times, especially beginning teachers or facilitators, their biggest fear is not knowing what to do next. And so the rush is just to get back on track. Yeah. And I don’t think that’s always helpful. I think sometimes the best thing you can do is identify that it’s gone off track. And so now it’s time to figure out what’s next.
And maybe that’s something that I as facilitator, I’m going to do out loud with the group. ‘ ‘This has taken a turn that I did not expect. So I’m going to take a quick moment and think about how we might. together move forward. You know what? Why don’t we turn and take a look here?’ Whatever it is, right?
That verbal expression too can be so grounding because then you’re a real person. You’re not an automaton trying to just speak the institutional will onto the people in front of you. And I think that circles back around to something before I’ve used the word honor, I’ve used the word respect, but I think affirmation of the humanity of each person has to be a bedrock belief.
It needs to be a bedrock belief of what you offer the others, and it needs to be a bedrock belief of what you offer yourself. Because if you’re not willing to do that, it will all quickly feel and be shallow to some degree. It’s just a sales pitch. It’s just an expression of intellect or desire. It’s not connection to the degree that it could be.
Claire Bown: I think I might leave it there. How can people find out more about the High Museum? How can they find out more about Values Engaged Teaching? We will include a link to that article that you wrote and also to the work of art that you mentioned.
Any other links that we should tell people about?
Andrew Westover: Absolutely. Definitely high. org, that’s H I G H is our museum website. If you want, you can read more about our values and methodologies there. Additionally, we are just beginning to start sharing more things on LinkedIn institutionally, which I’m very excited So feel free to follow the High Museum on LinkedIn or Instagram or any of the platforms available to you.
If you’d like to connect with me directly, I’m also on LinkedIn and Instagram and happy to share things on both of those platforms. And I’d say too, I think, there’s perhaps another conversation, but the field of museum education, is a diffuse one, and there are some folks who are really doing great work.
So I’d love to shout out FLAME, which is the Forum for Leadership in Art Museum Education, for folks who are heads of education at institutions, an excellent organisation to get part of, and then if you haven’t read some of these other texts, Teaching in the Art Museum, others, those are wonderful resources as well.
Claire Bown: Thank you so much. We will share all the links to everything in the show notes so people can go and find out more. That just leaves me time to say thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Andrew Westover: Thank you, Claire. This is a joy and a treasure and I really appreciate this time with you.
Claire Bown: So a huge thank you to Andrew for being on the podcast today. Go to the show notes to find out more about Values-Engaged Teaching and to connect with Andrew.
And if you’re interested in engaging with art in an innovative way, come and join us in the Slow Looking Club.
We have regular themes and regular get togethers, all based around the idea of slowing down. And noticing more. I’ll put a link in the show notes. That’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next time. Bye. Thank you for listening to the Art Engager podcast with me, Claire Bown. You can find more art engagement resources by visiting my website, thinking museum.com, and you can also find me on Instagram at Thinking Museum, where I regularly share tips and tools on how to bring art to life and engage your audience.
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